Many people only read the abstract and do not check the original source when citing it, Claire Glinton believes.
– We found that half of them pointed at us in a way we thought was wrong, says Claire Glinton, professor of knowledge-based practice at Høgskulen på Vestlandet (HVL).
In 2011, Glinton and his colleague Benedict Carlsen, professor and vice-chancellor at the University of Bergen, published, Scientific article on the use of focus groups in research. Based on 220 studies in 117 different journals, they found that it is common to use an average of eight focus groups. They also found that researchers often fail to explain the number of focus groups they chose.
The article was soon widely cited. Today it has more than 800 quotes. But then Glinton and Carlsen started reading articles that quoted them.
– It turns out there are dozens of misquotes, says Glinton.
– indicates that people did not really read the article. They quickly googled something, got the number and tossed it in.
Half of it was misquotes
The researchers systematically reviewed all the citations and found that half of the studies that cited the focus group article used it as an inference about how many focus groups one should have.
But here people misunderstand. Glenton and Carlsen only survey the number of focus groups commonly used, and make no recommendations about how many to use.
— What people tend to do is not the same as what you should do, says Glinton, who says some have even missed the average number.
A review of the errors resulted in a new scholarly article in 2019: “When ‘normal’ becomes normative: a case study of researchers’ citation errors when referring to a focus group sample size study».
This article had much less impact than the focus group article: only six quotes.
– We suspect that people quote misquotes
Glinton and Carlsen are not alone in misquoting. Almost 30 years ago, Karl Halvor Teigen, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, published an article on the relationship between stress and performance, which was much cited. Then it was found that as the frequency of citations increased, the percentage of correct citations became less and less.
Glinton now suspects a similar snowball effect. She believes that it is common to only read the abstract, and that many people do not check the original source.
– We suspect that people quote misquotes. Glinton says it’s frustrating to be rewarded as a researcher for her many citations, even though overviews of the citation count don’t say anything about whether or not they are being cited correctly.
Academic Walk Stories
When a scholarly article is reproduced incorrectly, and other articles misquote it, academic myths or wanderlust stories can emerge, says Ole Bjorn Rekdahl, a retired social anthropologist at HVL. Rekdal, who has been researching the use of academic sources for years, explains how messages that change slightly in transition between different sources can seriously distort the original source.
In 2014, the article was written “Academic Urban Legends”, He described how a comma error in the 1930s led to the myth that spinach was a particularly good source of iron. Academic myths, Rickdahl concludes, are caused by busy, lazy, sloppy, or fraudulent authors.
– It is about the most important thing in academia, whether things are right or not. What distinguishes myths is that they usually have a tense relationship with truth.
– When myths start to circulate in scientific publications, it means they ended up in a place where they never should have happened, says Reckdahl.
The opioid myth
– What can wrong quotes lead to at worst?
This blurs the line between science and nonsense. If there’s one thing we need today, it’s to maintain the distinction between science and unscientific, says Reckdahl, who uses Donald Trump as an example that it’s more important than ever to act as a counterweight by ensuring quality knowledge.
Sometimes, an unacceptable quote can have serious consequences. In the past 20 years, about 600,000 people have died from an opioid overdose in the United States and Canada—often referred to as the US opioid epidemic. A letter from a reader in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 1980 took a lot of the blame for the crisis. The letter’s authors refer to opioids as non-addictive, but they provide no evidence. According to the American Journal Online Slate Magazine The treatise has been used as an authoritative scientific source for many years and has been cited hundreds of times in the scientific literature.
The American overdose epidemic is the result of many different conditions, but there is no doubt that academic misuse of resources has contributed to perceptions that these drugs are not particularly addictive, says Reckdahl.
—The reader’s small but disastrous letter from 1980 is still available on the NEJM website, but is now equipped with a very special editor’s warning that the letter has been quoted extensively and uncritically over several decades, he continues.
Olsen (2000) always seems more serious
Claire Glinton lists a number of reasons why the error occurred: bad timing, publication pressure and a culture where one is encouraged to justify the choice of method and theory through references.
– A reference, no matter how good or bad it is, is seen as better than no reference. Olsen (2000) always seems more serious, says Glinton about citation practice today.
Glenton believes it is better to make a claim yourself than to put up a false reference. She describes today’s citation practice as quasi-ritual, in which you are encouraged to justify most claims with a reference.
You’ve learned to have a reference for almost everything. I understand that young researchers and students become careless.
– Ironically, moving 880 times is considered a great thing. It sounds fine in a counting edge system, but in this case Benedict Carlsen and I fear that our article, misquoted, has aggravated the practice in using focus groups, says Glinton.
The best reference for very little than a lot
Glinton believes that the main responsibility for correct citation rests with the authors. But after discovering blunders, Glinton also became more aware of how her research results were reported. If she were to write the article again, for example, she would not have written the number of focus groups in the abstract. One should also iron out the main points of the summary and wait with less important points of the main text, she advises.
– What can be done about the dirty practices of martyrdom?
– We have to teach students that you must have good references. One reference too little, Glinton says, actually read the article, rather than throw in a bunch of references.
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